Biomechanics of Breast Support for Active Women

Deirdre E. McGhee; Julie R. Steele


Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2020;48(3):99-109. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


More systematic breast biomechanics research and better translation of the research outcomes are necessary to provide information upon which to design better sports bras and to develop effective evidence-based strategies to alleviate exercise-induced breast pain for women who want to participate in physical activity in comfort.


Biomechanical research has consistently shown that breasts, which have no substantial anatomical support,[1,2] move relative to the chest wall when women participate in physical activity.[3–13] This breast motion is exacerbated during activities in which a woman's torso moves vertically, such as running and jumping.[3–22] Unfortunately, excessive breast motion has been associated with exercise-induced breast pain, which can negatively affect the performance of skilled female athletes[15,23,24] and even prevent some women from participating in physical activity altogether.[15,18,25–27] For this reason, wearing external breast support, such as a sports bra, is typically recommended for women when they exercise to reduce excessive breast motion and any associated breast discomfort or pain.[11,18,20,21,26,28–32] Indeed, for female athletes, a well-fitted and supportive sports bra should be considered an essential piece of sporting equipment.[20,31,33–36] Surprisingly, however, few sporting organizations, sports medicine associations, or public health education programs provide evidence-based guidelines on breast support for active women. Although most female athletes report wearing a sports bra when they exercise,[15,33,34,37–39] a high percentage of both active women (44%–72%) and female athletes (44%) also report experiencing exercise-induced breast pain,[3,17,23,24,34,35] as well as frictional injuries caused by their sports bras.[40,41] These injuries and pain are despite the extensive biomechanical research that has been conducted over the past decade in an attempt to improve sports bra designs.[10,11,19,25,42–51] More systematic research investigating breast biomechanics and better translation of research outcomes from these studies is, therefore, necessary to provide valid, reliable, and meaningful information upon which to improve sports bra designs for women who want to participate in physical activity.

Our primary aim in this article is to provide an overview of key studies examining the biomechanics of breast motion and to highlight how the results of these studies have been translated to design breast support for active women. We have highlighted limitations on current breast biomechanics research, as well as gaps in knowledge with respect to sports bras for women with unique breast support requirements. We have also posed key questions that need to be addressed in future research to develop a greater understanding of breast support for active women. The results of such future research, if conducted in a systematic manner, could ultimately enable women of all breast sizes, ages, and unique breast support needs to participate more comfortably in physical activity and sport without being limited by their breasts.